Brian Eno Shares His Critical Take on Art & NFTs: “I Mainly See Hustlers Looking for Suckers”

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

It can feel, in our inequal­i­ty-addled world, that we have lit­tle left in com­mon — that there is no “we,” just us and them. But mul­ti­ple crises dri­ving us apart have the poten­tial to unite the species. After all, a rapid­ly warm­ing plan­et and glob­al pan­dem­ic do threat­en us all, even if they don’t threat­en us equal­ly. Do solu­tions exist in the cre­ation of new forms of pri­vate prop­er­ty, new ways of mov­ing cap­i­tal around the world? Can the extinc­tion-lev­el byprod­ucts of cap­i­tal­ist com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and waste be mit­i­gat­ed by inge­nious new forms of finan­cial­iza­tion? These seem to be the argu­ments made by pur­vey­ors of cryp­tocur­ren­cy and NFTs, an acronym mean­ing non fun­gi­ble tokens and — if you haven’t noticed — the only thing any­one in the art world seems to talk about any­more. Why?

Bri­an Eno has put his opin­ion on the mat­ter quite blunt­ly in a recent inter­view. “NFTs seem to me just a way for artists to get a lit­tle piece of the action from glob­al cap­i­tal­ism,” he tells The Cryp­to Syl­labus. “How sweet — now artists can become lit­tle cap­i­tal­ist ass­holes as well.” He obvi­ous­ly dis­ap­proves of using art sole­ly to gen­er­ate prof­it, but then if we know any­thing about Eno’s the­o­ry of cre­ativ­i­ty and influ­ence over the past sev­er­al decades, it’s that he believes the guid­ing rea­son for art is to gen­er­ate more art.

“If I had pri­mar­i­ly want­ed to make mon­ey I would have had a dif­fer­ent career as a dif­fer­ent kind of per­son. I prob­a­bly would­n’t have cho­sen to be an artist.” There’s utter­ly no use in try­ing to peg Eno as techno­pho­bic or out of touch; quite the con­trary. But the fic­tion­al finan­cial prod­ucts that have invad­ed every oth­er sphere of life have no place in the arts, he argues.

When asked why NFTs are tout­ed as a sal­va­tion for artists and the art world by cryp­tocur­ren­cy vision­ar­ies, includ­ing many of his friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors, Eno replies:

I can under­stand why the peo­ple who’ve done well from it are pleased, and it’s nat­ur­al enough in a lib­er­tar­i­an world to believe that some­thing that ben­e­fits you must auto­mat­i­cal­ly be ‘right’ for the whole world. That belief is a ver­sion of what I call ‘auto­mati­cism’: the idea that if you leave things alone and let some­thing or oth­er – the mar­ket, nature, human will – take its course unim­ped­ed you will auto­mat­i­cal­ly get a bet­ter result than you would by tin­ker­ing with it. The peo­ple who hold beliefs of this kind don’t have any qualms about tin­ker­ing them­selves but just want a sit­u­a­tion where nobody else gets to tin­ker. Espe­cial­ly the state.

That the sale of NFTs have only ben­e­fit­ted very few — to the tune of $69 mil­lion in a sin­gle sale in a recent high-pro­file case — does­n’t seem par­tic­u­lar­ly trou­ble­some to those who insist on their ben­e­fits. Nor do the cre­ators of NFTs seem both­ered by the enor­mous ener­gy over­head required by the tech­nol­o­gy, “an eco­log­i­cal night­mare pyra­mid scheme,” writes Syn­th­topia — of which Eno says: “in a warm­ing world a new tech­nol­o­gy that uses vast amounts of ener­gy as ‘proof of work’ — that’s to say, sim­ply to estab­lish a cer­tain age of exclu­siv­i­ty — real­ly is quite insane.”

Eno read­i­ly answers ques­tions about why NFTs seem so glam­orous — it’s no great mys­tery, just a new form of accu­mu­la­tion, com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and waste, one in par­tic­u­lar that adds noth­ing to the world while has­ten­ing a cli­mate col­lapse. NFTs are the “ready­made reversed,” David Joselit argues: Where “Duchamp used the cat­e­go­ry of art to lib­er­ate mate­ri­al­i­ty from com­mod­i­fi­able form; the NFT deploys the cat­e­go­ry of art to extract pri­vate prop­er­ty from freely avail­able infor­ma­tion.”

The dis­course around NFTs also seems to lib­er­ate art from the cat­e­go­ry of art, and all that has meant to humankind for mil­len­nia as a com­mu­nal prac­tice, reduc­ing cre­ative pro­duc­tions to dig­i­tal cer­tifi­cates of authen­tic­i­ty. “I am try­ing to keep an open mind about these ques­tions,” Eno admits. “Peo­ple I like and trust are con­vinced [NFTs] are the best thing since sliced bread, so I wish I could have a more pos­i­tive view but right now I main­ly see hus­tlers look­ing for suck­ers.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

What are Non-Fun­gi­ble Tokens (NFTs)? And How Can a Work of Dig­i­tal Art Sell for $69 Mil­lion

What Is Blockchain? Three Videos Explain the New Tech­nol­o­gy That Promis­es to Change Our World

Cryp­tocur­ren­cy and Blockchain: An Intro­duc­tion to Dig­i­tal Currencies–A Free Online Cours­es from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (11) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (11)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Glenn Anderson says:

    I did not see Mr. Eno ever com­plain about receiv­ing roy­al­ties for his music cre­ations. Now artists and cre­ators have a sim­i­lar sys­tem in place sud­den­ly there is no place for them in this world. A glar­ing con­tra­dic­tion on his part.

  • peter a primavera says:

    Do you know that to be true or are you guess­ing. Do you know what he did with roy­al­ties or guess­ing.

    I guess exor­ing ambi­ent music was his play for prof­it. Let’s all hum I a bit of Mus­cic for Air­ports now.

    That and the total mis­un­der­stand­ing his point and intgri­ty of are sad­ly evi­dent

    And the sys­tem is not remote­ly sim­i­lar. Who is gain­ing the most prof­its from nuts? Artists?

  • Alex says:

    Typ­i­cal boomer hyp­ocrite, he just sold lim­it­ed edi­tion mediocre record play­ers, so maybe he is upset his grift isn’t as suc­cess­ful? Price it for the peo­ple or STFU. Os music for air­ports was bor­ing

  • Bosa Nova says:

    Well, Alex, your taste in music is as sus­pect as your crit­i­cal rea­son­ing skills.

    NFTs and their cryp­to-ilk are pyra­mid schemes. Peri­od.

  • Mick Malkemus says:

    To think that a few well placed pix­els are worth mon­ey once they become NFTs is an affront to art. Who ever is left hold­ing the bag when the mer­ry-go-round stops is going to be very shocked their great “invest­ment” is worth zero.
    A suck­er is born every minute.

  • Matthew Smith says:

    I think that’s true of Web 3.0.

  • Zach says:

    Could­n’t make it past the first para­graph. So jam packed with left­ist alarmism. It’s weird how peo­ple feel com­pelled to state their ide­olo­gies before get­ting to a point. It’s very cultish behav­ior.

  • William M. Neal says:

    Isn’t every­thing an abhor­rent cult, or sub­scrip­tion these days? You were always meant for selling/sharing your self to the greater world? Can you exist in it with­out? You need to eat, clothe, and shel­ter your self, your fam­i­ly. Do you kill self and the world in the process? Does it even work, or shall we just amble along and mod­est­ly dwell? Not every­one has a voice or a great impact. It means every­thing and noth­ing to sing to the world, which either hears you at large or does not.

  • Joe says:

    Left­ist alarmism? Cultish behav­iour? Sounds like the ram­blings of a fas­cist lem­ming. Who told you to say that, Alex Jones or Sean Han­ni­ty? Orig­i­nal thought is impos­si­ble from “Schmecks” like you…

  • Bony says:

    Hus­tlers and suck­ers… the entire his­to­ry of the USA.

  • BTRBT says:

    It’s real­ly quite exhaust­ing, always hear­ing polit­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed mul­ti-mil­lion­aires pon­tif­i­cate like this. Call­ing peo­ple “ass­holes” for their opti­mism about the poten­tial of a more lib­er­tar­i­an future (com­pared to state-enforced monop­o­lies), or peace­ful­ly try­ing to earn a liv­ing for them­selves.

    The vague plat­i­tudes like “tin­ker­ing” with the eco­nom­ic sys­tem are also real­ly tire­some, giv­en how often they’re just code for men with guns seiz­ing assets from one group, to allo­cate to some oth­er polit­i­cal­ly-favored group (often the allo­ca­tors them­selves).

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.